Mariners look for arms at Meetings

Mariners to eye free-agent arms at Meetings

SEATTLE -- Bill Bavasi's agenda for the Winter Meetings in Orlando, which begin on Monday, is the same agenda the Mariners general manager has had since the end of the season in October.

The only thing that's changed for Bavasi and the Mariners is the market they're working with, as several early free-agent signings have radically changed the financial landscape of the market.

"The market is frustrating," Bavasi said. "But going in, you have an idea it could end up that way. It affects what you're going to do with your payroll and what you had planned. The money doesn't go as far, with the way the market has turned."

The signings of free agents Gary Matthews Jr. (Angels, five years, $50 million), Carlos Lee (Astros, six years, $100 million), Juan Pierre (Dodgers, five years, $44 million) and Alfonso Soriano (Cubs, eight years, $136 million) may have well changed the worth of the remaining free agents on the market, players that the Mariners are coveting.

With that in mind, Bavasi and the Mariners head to Orlando this weekend looking to fill one glaring area of need -- starting pitching.

Felix Hernandez and Jarrod Washburn are the only set starters in the rotation for 2007 with either Cha Seung Baek or Jake Woods as possible candidates for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

That means the Mariners need at least two starting pitchers -- likely a mid-range starter and an upper-range starter -- to join the mix either through a trade or free-agent signing.

Gone from the potential pool of talent are left-hander Randy Wolf (Dodgers, one-year, $8 million) and right-hander Adam Eaton (Phillies, three years, $24 million). Eaton -- who is from Snohomish, Wash., about an hour north of Seattle -- was one of the pitchers the Mariners had targeted.

Woody Williams, another pitcher Seattle had interest in, signed a two-year, $12.5 million contract with Houston.

Seattle opted not to join the bidding sweepstakes for Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and, though it made a bid for another Japanese pitcher, Kei Igawa, it was outbid by the New York Yankees and others.

So that leaves the Mariners looking at ... well, just about everyone, Bavasi said.

"Some of the guys who have signed were on our radar," Bavasi said. "Now it just means there's more guys on your radar. It's hard to find a mid-range to upper-range pitcher who is not on our radar."

Perhaps no pitcher is more on the Mariners' radar than right-hander Jason Schmidt, who is a Washington native and has, in the past, expressed an interest in playing for Seattle.

Schmidt, who turns 34 in January, is regarded as one of the top three pitchers left on the market, along with Barry Zito and Tom Glavine. Schmidt reportedly has been offered a three-year deal worth $45 million.

To land Schmidt, the Mariners would likely have to include a fourth year on a deal and possibly a fifth year to secure him. The Dodgers and their general manager Ned Colletti, who knows Schmidt from his assistant GM days in San Francisco, are also said to be in the running.

Other than Schmidt, Seattle's wish list is thought to include left-handed Ted Lilly, who might be close to signing with the Yankees, Chan Ho Park, Jeff Suppan, Jeff Weaver, Vicente Padilla and Tomo Ohka.

Trades are a possibility, though Bavasi indicated that most of his recent conversations have fallen more toward free agents than possible deals. Still, outfielder Jeremy Reed -- who has lost his job now that Ichiro Suzuki has said he will play center field in 2007 -- could be available.

The Mariners have two nice bargaining chips in center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Jeff Clement -- both former first-round picks -- though Seattle is thought to be not too keen on moving either player.

Seattle would also like to add a corner outfielder with power, a move that was essentially made possible when Ichiro opted to move from right field to center field, thus giving the Mariners more potential options to fill that corner spot.

Milwaukee's Geoff Jenkins and the Chicago Cubs' Jacque Jones are two players Seattle has had interest in during the past, though both players are under still under contract with their current teams, meaning the only way to obtain either one of them would be through a trade.

Free agents Jay Payton, Cliff Floyd and Shannon Stewart might be other options Seattle might look into.

All of this, of course, figures to sort itself out in Orlando, though in the past the Mariners haven't done much other than lay the groundwork for future deals at the Winter Meetings, as they did with free agents Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre and Jarrod Washburn.

This year, though, they might have to move quicker.

"It's not the be-all, end-all," Bavasi said. "But if you haven't done it by the time you get there, you better do it there. If you don't do it there, you better do it when you get home."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.